NASCAR: Alex Bowman’s Underrated Season

Alex Bowman, NASCAR

Alex Bowman took over for one of the most famous drivers in Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Alex Bowman had the opportunity to earn the job when Earnhardt has struggled with head issues. In that time, Bowman was able to prove himself well enough to earn a full-time ride in succession of Earnhardt Jr.

Bowman struggled early in his career, but towards the back half of last season, he truly broke through. At Chicagoland, after being the bridesmaid quite a few times, he was finally the bride when he won the Camping World 400. Bowman has since established himself as a much stronger force in the Cup Series.

Bowman’s Success This Season

Prior to the return of NASCAR, Bowman stood as one of the only winners from the season. After taking home the checkered flag at Auto Club Speedway, he returned in impactful fashion as well. In one of the first races back Bowman was runner up at Darlington and nearly pulled off a win. Since then, at Martinsville, Pocono 2, and Talladega, Bowman had three top 10 finishes. Bowman has been able to put up very successful runs this year that have been cut short. He also sits in the top half of the points standings currently as well. He’s flown under the radar for the most part despite all of this.

The fact is, Bowman is still just 27. Although most of NASCAR pinpoints Chase Elliot as the lead driver of the future for Hendrick Motorsports, at the least, Bowman is growing into a formidable number two. Alex Bowman has continued to grow as a racer and I expect him to make some noise come the playoffs.

NASCAR sends memo to teams about mask use and coronavirus exposure

This week, NASCAR sent a memo to teams about crew members not fully following coronavirus protocols. Several team members have been caught not wearing masks properly or at all, and some may have lied about coronavirus exposure.

This comes as coronavirus cases rise down south and out west. A lot of the locations with the rising cases are places where NASCAR is expected to host events in the near future.

Additionally, this is after Jimmie Johnson became the first driver to test positive for the virus. He got it from his wife who was having mild symptoms. After a short quarantine period, he tested negative twice and was cleared to return to racing. He missed just once race.

Although NASCAR won’t release how many tests have came back positive throughout the sport, it’s presumed that the number is rising. If team members weren’t following guidelines and numbers weren’t going up, then I doubt NASCAR sends out the memo. Policies haven’t been enforced very strictly, but that could change for the coming events.

Here’s the memo below:

The memo seems to be a warning to the teams, and a strong reminder about the impact that coronavirus can have. Coronavirus shut down the sport before, and it could do it again if the situation in the sport worsens.

Hopefully, NASCAR won’t see many more coronavirus cases and teams will effectively be warned from the memo. Ratings have been improved since the return in May, and staying in business would be great for the sport. The playoffs are nearing and the intensity is rising, with a lot of racing ahead. It would be a shame if NASCAR got shut down again.

NASCAR is reinvigorated as new eyes shift to its incredible change

NASCAR was one of the first professional sports leagues to return following COVID-19. The desperate longing for sports and gambling has driven diehard sports fans to all forms of sports. Soccer has become a little more recognized by some that had ignored it in favor of NBA or MLB during the early summer.

The AFL and KBO have gained more mainstream notoriety in recent weeks as their fan bases expand to the United States. The sport that’s had the most successful return, NASCAR. NASCAR has experienced a reinvigoration in terms of both public image and ratings.

New Eyes On NASCAR

In the last few weeks since their return, over the span of 11 races, including some primetime week races, some races on FS1, and the usual summer dip, NASCAR has had an average of 3.08 million viewers per race.

In terms of comparison against pass races this time last year, the numbers are higher even if they’re on FS1. Publicly NASCAR being back also turned eyes to the sport with the uproar of the Black Lives Matter Movement and allowed them to take a vocal stance in support of the movement. More eyes are tuning into the sport, and more money is being spent on merchandise than before.

With that said, is it sustainable? As the NBA and MLB attempt to navigate their returns, those same fans that gravitated to NASCAR in the absence of sports may return to watching the more familiar sports. Not only that but as coronavirus spikes in the south, that’s not good for NASCAR, which has most team shops primarily based in North Carolina. Now, Jimmie Johnson has been diagnosed with COVID, and that could also spark some worries as the first case they’ve had since their return.

Still, with sports like MLB struggling to return and missing out on an opportune time to gain mainstream attention and the NBA trying to navigate the new normal, eyes will still be on the sport for now. At least for now, a sport that was deemed by some to be on the ropes just a short time ago has experienced a rejuvenation.

 

NASCAR: Two Underrated Drivers Had A Big Saturday

NASCAR, Christopher Bell

Yesterday featured the opener to a big weekend of NASCAR. Starting at 9:30 am est the Trucks roll-off, then the Xfinity series goes off after them, and then the finale of the weekend is the second cup race. The first day was a big one for two underrated drivers.

Christopher Bell Finished 4th

Bell has been a highly touted rookie. Coming off a master class in the Xfinity Series last year, Bell was handed a ride and expected to fare well. Although Tyler Reddick has stolen a lot of headlines, Christopher Bell has had some speed. Piloting the 95 machine, Bell was fast at Pocono and parlayed that into a top 5 finish. Bell took over the Leavine Family racing ride from Matt DiBenedetto in order to gain cup experience before likely jumping up to a ride at JGR. His speed yesterday will make him one to watch later today. At the very least though, his success Saturday is a strong building point for the long haul.

Michael McDowell Finished 8th

Whereas Bell is a rookie with high potential, McDowell is the underdog for a team with lesser equipment. At 35 years old, McDowell is likely in the back 9 of his career starting at 18. It’s always entertaining when he has success though. McDowell is a guy people like to see succeed because he’s counted out often. Today was a good day for the 34 team and they took advantage of good pit strategy and a fast car in order to get to the front of the field. It was a good race for the Front Row team and hopefully, they can continue to replicate that success.

It’s always encouraging to see two underdogs succeed and hopefully, they continue to have success. For Bell, success could nail a top tier ride for 2021. For McDowell, success could change his career trajectory. 

NASCAR: Can Kyle Busch steal a win on Sunday?

Kyle Busch, Nascar

Kyle Busch has shocked a lot of people in the past few weeks. Not because of success but because of lack thereof. Busch is coming off a championship season and is experiencing a bit of a slump.

Although Busch is a savvy vet, who is believed to be capable of taking any machine to the front of the pack, Busch has admittedly though, had trouble transitioning to the new normal in racing. He’s been quoted as saying things have been challenging for the 18 team to make adjustments without practice. He also said it’s been difficult for him and crew chief Adam Stevens to get on the same page with the car with short times to adjust. So, with the setup of this weekend, he could break his winless streak tomorrow.

Saturday Was Practice for Busch

Saturday offered an opportunity for Busch after falling behind the pack. When it seemed like Busch didn’t have a chance to win, it seemed more like he was running practice laps to qualify for Sunday. Despite that, he still finished 5th and had speed all day. Just like he’s had speed all season. By running laps on Saturday, he enters Sunday with the same car and a chance to make modifications overnight if need be. He talked about the similarities in a media release quoted on Yahoo Sports as Busch stated,

“‘The first race, there’s only going to be the Truck Series rubber, it’s only 60 laps, so there’s just going to be a little rubber down. Then, we’re going to put a lot of rubber down with our race. Then you’ll have the Xfinity race the next day, and then you’ll have our (second) race. Over the course of all those miles, I think the main similarities between the two days is going to be just that – they’re a day apart rather than a month apart. There’s a difference between the Pocono racetrack when it’s a month apart, but when it’s day one to day two, there are going to be big differences in day one to day two, so you have to take a lot of different things into account.’”

The quick transition is something better suited for a veteran. Busch and the team gained some experience on the track and can gain experience from the races before him. If Busch and Stevens can modify the car to play off the success they had today, the 18 team could be en route for a big day. 

NASCAR: Homestead-Miami Speedway enters a new era this weekend

When the green flag drops at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend, the track will begin a new era in NASCAR.

For the first time since the 2001 season, the South Florida venue will not be host to the championships of NASCAR’s three premier series. Instead, they will be hosting early season events.

The 1.5 mile oval with turns banked up to 20 degrees will be host to just the 12th race of the Cup Series season. However, all three premier series will still have events. The Xfinity Series will actually have events on both Saturday and Sunday, with 15-time Cup Series most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. participating on Saturday.

Like all Cup Series races at Homestead, the Dixie Vodka 400 will be 400 miles long and 267 laps. Each of the first two stages will be 80 laps with the final stage being 107 laps.

Last time at Homestead, Kyle Busch won the race en route to his second Cup Series Championship. On Sunday, he will roll off 4th. His teammate, Denny Hamlin, has the pole.

The starting positions were determined via a random draw dependent on owner points. 1-12, 13-24, and 25-36 in owner points  are determined by separate draws for starting positions. Spots 37-38 are represented by non-chartered teams. With no qualifying, it provides more incentive for teams to get better finishes to have a better chance to start further up-front.

It will be really interesting to see how Sunday’s race plays out. Now, there’s more than just the Championship 4 fighting for something big. Instead, it’s the whole field competing for the same prize. It will also be the first time that FOX will be broadcasting this race.

The race is at 3:30pm ET on Sunday. The Truck Series and Xfinity series run on Saturday afternoon, and the Xfinity Series runs again before the Cup race on Sunday.

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. takes home Martinsville’s first night race

New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. overcame a penalty to earn another victory at Martinsville Speedway in NASCAR’s Wednesday event.

Martin Truex Jr. was literally lights out on his way to victory on Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway.

The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Mayetta, NJ native led the final 130 laps of Wednesday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, earning his first victory of the 2020 season at the first NASCAR Cup Series night race in Martinsville history. It’s also the first win Truex has earned under the guidance of first-year crew chief James Small.

Truex posted a fourth-place finish after the first of two 130-lap stages, but was forced to start part two toward the back of the field after failing to adhere to the pit road commitment line. While he made his way back to the front, Joey Logano took home victory in the first stage en route to leading a race-high 234 circuits. Truex made it back to 15th by the end of the second stage while Jimmie Johnson ended Logano’s near-monopoly with a pass on lap 202. Johnson would go on to earn his first stage win since last season’s July Pocono event.

As the third stage commenced, Johnson failed to break up a Team Penske party at the front, as Logano battled his fellow Fords Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski for the lead. Truex was able to get back up to the front by the time the caution flag came out at lap 327 of 500 for an incident involving Erik Jones and David Starr. He eventually passed Keselowski for the lead with 130 circuits remaining and preserved it during pit stops under caution when Quin Houff spun shortly before the 400th go-around. After retaining the lead once more after a furious restart, Truex was able to coast to victory, taking home his second consecutive victory at the short track by a 4.7-second margin.

It’s the 27th Cup Series win for Truex, breaking a tie with his mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr. Truex previously drove in the NASCAR Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) in a car owned by Earnhardt Jr., winning two titles at that level.

Ryan Blaney finished in the runner-up spot after an eventful evening of his own. The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford started on the pole via draw but found himself a lap down before the end of the first stage. He eventually was able to work his way back to the lead, winning the race off pit road at the end of stage two, but a disastrous pit stop (that included a penalty for having men over the wall too early) pushed him to the rear of the field. He recovered well enough to chase down everyone but Truex, the 2017 Cup Series champion.

Logano and Keselowski finished third and fourth, while Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Dixie Vodka 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Race Notes

  • Wednesday’s race was the first to be run after NASCAR banned the display of the Confederate flag at races. The announcement was made hours before the green flag.
  • The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet of Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver on the circuit, bore the “#BlackLivesMatter” insignia. Earlier this week, Wallace called for the banning of the Confederate flag on CNN. He finished fifth in the first stage and sixth after the second and wound up 11th on the evening.
  • Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet lost its crush panels in the very early stages of the race after an incident with his tires. Situated near the driver compartment and wheel wells, crush panels keep heat and fumes out of the car. Dillon was eventually removed from the car with just over 100 laps to go and treated for overheating.
  • Matt DiBenedetto finished seventh, his best finish since a runner-up spot at Las Vegas back in February.
  • In addition to Elliott finishing fifth, every Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet finished in the top ten. Johnson came home 10th, just behind Alex Bowman (sixth) and William Byron (eighth).

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Dr. Fauci suggests a summer return for sports

In an interview with Peter Hanby of Snapchat, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested a summer return for major sports. But, the return would have some restrictions.

“Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled,” said Fauci. “Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

There have been similar proposals, such as the MLB’s to play in Florida and Arizona, as well as the NBA’s proposal to play the remainder of the season and the postseason in Las Vegas. From what Fauci said, it seems as if players would get some access to their families as long as players stay relatively isolated.

Right now, the PGA Tour is the first sport to have a return set. They will return to the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 11th. Racing events such as NASCAR may end up returning around the same time.

President Donald Trump has set up a committee focused on reopening the economy when safe. Most league commissioners will be giving input, as well as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to trying to help,” said Cuban, also seen on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’.

The committee is rumored to begin preliminary meetings on Wednesday and will continue to have frequent meetings until further notice.

It’s great that sports are nearing a safe return, and that Dr. Fauci is in agreement.

“I’m living in Washington, we have the world champion Washington Nationals,” said Fauci. “I want to see them play again.”

 

Sports could be closer to returning than you think

Madison Square Garden

Believe it or not, sports could be closer to returning than you think.

Yesterday, Dr. Fauci delivered good news, saying that he believes that the coronavirus outbreak is slowing. He stated that by May, the economy should slowly be able to get going again, and social distancing restrictions could be relaxed to an extent.

In the sports world, this is fantastic news. Though it’s doubtful that it will be in front of fans, sports may be able to get going in May when the curve is even flatter. President Donald Trump and league commissioners agreed that games beginning again is a focus in restarting the economy. Trump and the commissioners were all on a conference call last weekend.

Right now, the MLB is trying to figure how the entirety of the season will be played, while the NBA and NHL are preparing for the playoffs. All games across the leagues may be played in only a few cities or states, for the safety of the players. Doing that would reduce travel risks.

What we may end up seeing before those core leagues return is a return to golf and racing. Both of those are non-contact sports that don’t need weeks of training before a season resumes. Most golfers have been practicing on their own, while drivers have been racing in simulators to stay sharp.

The core leagues are working with health officials to come up with realistic timelines and ideas to keep everyone safe while still providing entertainment and contributing to an economy that needs serious help right now.

I think that in a month from now, leagues will have definite plans to start up again, and we could see games and events soon after. At least for right now, we have the MLB The Show players league, NBA H-O-R-S-E competitions, and the NFL draft to look forward to.

Stay safe, and be patient. Sports will be back before we know it!